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Putting the Heat on Utilities

MILLVILLE, N.J. — With utility costs rising every day, many coin laundry operators are ready to try anything to reduce their costs. John Bulboff, owner of ThrifT Laundromat, Millville, N.J., has come up with a creative solution — a heat exchanger that uses the air conditioner on his roof to heat water for the washers.Bulboff has owned and operated the 1,200-square-foot ThrifT Laundromat for 23 years, and he’s always on the lookout for new ways to make his equipment — six 50-pound washers, two 60-pound washers, 27 top loaders, 10 gas dryers and 50 steam dryers — operate more efficiently. Bulboff also operates two car washes.“Now, I’ve got a 10-ton air conditioner on the roof — that’s two 5-ton compressors — and the people that make the [heat exchanger] unit claim you can make 1,800 gallons of water per day, free, and I’ve found that to be true,” Bulboff says. “I make so much hot water that when I get too much in the tank, I use it in the car wash for rinsing cars to lower the temperature.”A SIMPLE SYSTEMThe heat exchanger actually works on a simple principle, Bulboff explains.“We have a compressor that compresses a refrigerant and sends it to the condenser to be cooled down before it goes to the evaporator,” he says. “If we cut that line that goes from the compressor to the condenser and send that into a heat exchanger, we can make hot water with that. Now we’ve taken some of the heat out of it before it goes to the condenser.”A circulator moves the hot water from the heat exchanger’s 120-gallon tank to a 400-gallon holding tank where it is stored before being sent to the washers.Because Bulboff is always keeping an eye on energy-saving technology, he was surprised to hear that such a device was on the market. “I was on the brink of trying to design a heat exchanger and I found out [from my supplier] there was one available commercially, so I bought the 120-gallon one, which is the largest one they carry. He looked it up and got prices for me, and we were in business.”So is this something that any operator could implement in their store?“Unless you’re really mechanically inclined, you really need to hire somebody,” Bulboff suggests. “We do our own work — I’ve got these two car washes and installed all the equipment — not too many people can do what I’m able to do.”Fortunately, the project was affordable. He estimates the cost of the exchanger at around $1,600.“You need a refrigeration man to hook up the lines for you and you need a plumber to pipe it,” he says. “So you can be looking at, depending on who’s doing it, I would say probably under $1,000 to accomplish this.”How does Bulboff feel about his investment at this point?“When the thing is running, the air conditioner is going and you feel that hot water coming out of there and it’s free, you’ve got to say to yourself, ‘This thing’s working,’” Bulboff says. “If you’ve got a roof-top unit and don’t have a heat exchanger you’re throwing your money away. You can stand by these condensers and feel the heat blowing out. That’s wasted. You can take that heat and make hot water with it.”     

Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Bruce Beggs at [email protected].